The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli by Alyssa Palombo
About the book: (from the publisher) A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.
Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence―most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici―become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most. Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.
Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence vividly captures the dangerous allure of the artist and muse bond with candor and unforgettable passion.
About the author: Alyssa Palombo is the author of The Violinist of Venice and The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. She has published short fiction pieces in Black Lantern Magazine and The Great Lakes Review. She is a recent graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, respectively. A passionate music lover, she is a classically trained musician as well as a big fan of heavy metal. She lives in Buffalo, New York. Connect with her online at www.alyssapalombo.com.
My take: This is one of those novels that’s really all about the premise, in which the what is secondary to whom it happens, and where, and when. As such, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence becomes a vehicle for the Italian Renaissance, for Florence, and of course, the Medicis and Botticelli. It’s a showcase for the art, the architecture, and the history of the country, with a nod to the religion and the wine. It’s hard to imagine that any important detail was spared in the telling of this story. It is a novel for lovers of Italian art and history.
I never did warm to its protagonist, Simonetta, however. Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to, perhaps she was intended to retain an inaccessibility as a part of her character. But what that meant for me as a reader was that I never completely sympathized with her, and therefore never became fully attached to her. The dialogue often felt strained and shallow, whose purpose seemed more to convey information than to engage emotions. Neither could I applaud the choices she made, despite the desperately unhappy situation she found herself in.
That said, I had wanted to read this book to educate myself about a place I look forward to visiting soon. In that sense, it more than met my expectations.
Just so you know: Mature themes and sexual content
Thanks to St. Martin’s Griffin for providing me this book free of charge. All opinions are mine.
After words: What novel about Italy should I read next?